I realized something, back in May I think, as I sat with my family on baked potato night around the dining room table.
My boys’ table manners were atrocious.
Terrible. Horrible. No good. Very bad.
They talked with their mouths full; they ate with their hands; they spilled food all down themselves pretty much every time they ate; they interrupted; they yelled; they wiped their hands on their clothes and the table.
Where did they learn this? I wondered.
The truth is, that bad manners do not have to be learned. They are automatic. Put two hungry boys and food in the same space, and you can pretty much guarantee that they will gobble and guzzle and splosh and spill and spew until you want to spew too. Bad manners are just the way we are. Good manners have to be taught, and they do not come easily.
I realized that due to the craziness of our family’s schedules, we were sitting down as a family on average about twice a week to share a meal. Twice. The other times it was usually the boys on their own while Art was gone and I was in the next room on my laptop. And left to themselves, two young boys are pretty unlikely to practice good manners.
About four weeks ago, I decided that Things Needed To Change. I realized that if I wanted my sons to be more pleasant than cave trolls at mealtimes, they needed to have examples and instruction.
Last week, we ate nineteen meals together as a family. All but two. And it’s making a difference. Not a miraculous overnight difference; they’re boys and they’re young and they’re messy and impetuous. But a difference.
One of the first things I started working on with them was what we call the straight line. Pulled-up-close chair, sitting-up-straight body, plate, and cup all go in a straight line. So much was getting dumped down the front of their shirts because they were lounging about instead of sitting up straight over their plate. It has made a huge difference. We ate oatmeal on Saturday and no one got it on their clothing. That is almost miraculous.
Aside from the Straight Line, we are also working on chewing with your mouth closed, not talking with your mouth full, passing dishes, and carrying on a pleasant dinner conversation. Oh. And not burping at the table. Which is way harder than you might think with three two boys in the house. And it’s slow going, but we are seeing progress. And the boys have learned to set and clear the table, which is such a blessing to me, even if they do like rinsing the dishes a bit too much. (I caught Bubs rinsing a water glass tonight.)
Why am I sharing this?
When God started making His will for our family clear to us this spring, I came to the realization that I was not enjoying my children they way I believe He wants us to. Proverbs calls children a heritage and a reward. I was looking at mine more as a burden, and part of the reason was that they weren’t particularly pleasant to be around. Mealtime was just one area, and I hope to share others soon.
I believe that if we want our children to be blessings to us, we have to teach them to be blessings. That sounds silly, but honestly I think sometimes we get so accustomed tolerating the mess and noise when they’re little that as they get older we forget to expect more out of them. And when a kid is seven, he can’t make it on just his cuteness anymore. 🙂
So I am teaching my children to be a blessing at mealtime. To be helpful, considerate, kind, and well-mannered. It’s not easy, but it is already bearing fruit. I am enjoying our family meals so much more these days. To sit down at the table with my family, hold hands and thank God for His provision, pass the food, share in conversation– this is a privilege I am blessed by more and more these days.
And it is a gift worth unwrapping.